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In Colo. city, again the horror of multiple slayings

Gunman opened fire as police neared; 4 dead

An unidentified woman was consoled outside a town-house complex following shootings in Aurora, Colo., Saturday.

Evan Semon/Reuters

An unidentified woman was consoled outside a town-house complex following shootings in Aurora, Colo., Saturday.

AURORA, Colo. — About four miles from the Aurora Mall, where 12 people were killed by a gunman in a movie theater in July, residents of this Denver suburb were struggling Sunday to understand another multiple slaying.

Police said SWAT officers stormed an Aurora home where a gunman had holed up Saturday and found a horrific scene — four bodies, including that of the suspect.

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Police said the armed man fired shots at officers from a second-story window before he was killed. Once inside, they found the bodies of three other adults.

The suspect, whose name was withheld by police, held officers at bay for nearly six hours after neighbors reported gunfire at 3 a.m. inside the modest town home in Aurora, said police Sergeant Cassidee Carlson.

A motive for the killings was unknown, and police have yet to say what weapon or weapons were used.

It was not known whether officers shot the suspect or he shot himself. Investigators said two men and a woman appeared to have been killed before officers arrived.

The suspect shot at police as they approached the front of the home with an armored vehicle and fired tear gas around 8:15 a.m.

He died about 45 minutes later, Carlson said.

‘‘After we arrived on scene, there were no more shots fired up until he fired at us,’’ Carlson said. ‘‘During this time he was all over the house. He moved furniture. He was throwing things. He was agitated. He was irrational.’’

A large front window was missing in the two-story town home, the window blinds in disarray. Bullet holes marked two upstairs windows.

A fifth person escaped unharmed and called police to report that she saw three people inside the home who ‘‘appeared lifeless,’’ said Carlson, who declined to elaborate about the woman’s escape.

Investigators carrying evidence bags were going over the crime scene Sunday.

Police declined to release the victims’ names.

‘‘We have an idea of who they are, but we obviously want to confirm their identities with the coroner,’’ said Carlson.

Officers evacuated neighbors’ homes during the standoff and used a bullhorn to communicate with the gunman, urging him to surrender.

Next-door neighbor Melissa Wright, a nurse who treated victims of the movie theater shootings last summer, said she was in her second-floor bedroom when she saw the gunman start shooting from a bedroom window in the neighboring house.

She said that she didn’t know what he was shooting at and that she quickly dropped to the floor.

‘‘I hit the ground pretty fast,’’ Wright said.

She slid on her abdomen to the first floor of her home and told police what she saw upstairs. Officers quickly entered her home.

Wright said she knew the gunman as Sonny Archuleta — a name used by police officers trying to negotiate with the man with the bullhorn. Wright said the town home may have been inhabited by the gunman, the gunman’s wife, her father, and another man.

Aurora, just east of Denver, is one of Colorado’s largest and most diverse cities, with more than 335,000 residents. It is home to Buckley Air Force Base as well as the large campus of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, where James Holmes studied neuroscience before police say he opened fire in the movie theater.

The killing of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn., last month has renewed debate on whether tighter guns laws are needed, including more deliberate background checks, and bans on assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition clips. A federal commission appointed by President Obama is studying the issue and is due to present its findings later this month.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday that federal spending and the country’s debt problem will dominate the congressional agenda for the next three months and that debate about potential gun legislation will be delayed.

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